In the waning days of the 2021 session, the Idaho Legislature passed and the Governor signed a new anti-wolf law that will allow the killing of up to 90% of Idaho’s wolves. Starting in July, hunters with wolf tags can trap, snare, and shoot an unlimited number of wolves and their pups. And, hunters can use ATVs, snowmobiles, aircraft, and other vehicles to track and target them. In addition, the law allows year-round hunting on private lands across the state.
The Legislature essentially stripped wolf management authority away from the Idaho Fish and Game Commission and the Idaho Fish and Game Department. Since wolves were reintroduced in Idaho 26 years ago, the program has successfully restored wolves across much of Idaho. As a result, the population management authority was successfully transferred to the State from the federal government. The new law jeopardizes this authority, and threatens the recovery of wolves.
While the proponents of the bill argued that it was developed collaboratively, the reality is it was developed behind closed doors with input from the ranching and trapping communities. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission, wildlife advocates, and hunting interests alike spoke out against the bill. Nonetheless, it passed the House and Senate along party lines. What’s even more galling is that the bill requires hunters and anglers to increase their contribution to the wolf control fund, while agricultural interests will not see their fees increase.
While Idahoans passionately disagree about whether we have too many wolves or too few or how they are being managed, we currently have sustainable populations of wolves, elk, and livestock across the state.
Livestock depredations may increase
Wolf depredations represent very few livestock deaths. There are over 2.8 million cattle and 220,000 domestic sheep in Idaho but wolves accounted for only 81 cattle and 92 sheep deaths last year. That amounts to less than .006% In comparison, roughly 40,000 Idaho cattle are lost each year to non-predator causes like disease and weather.
If the purpose of the new law is to reduce livestock deaths, it may end up doing the exact opposite. Wolves are intolerant of other canines, such as coyotes, and will kill them if they can. Without wolves, coyote numbers may increase, which can have a greater impact on livestock.
Pets and other animals may become trapped and snared
Rare wildlife like wolverine, grizzly bears, and lynx can be caught in traps and snares intended for wolves, as can big game like elk, moose, and deer. Since traps can be set as close as 10 feet from the edge of a hiking trail without a warning sign, our pets are also vulnerable, and the results can be tragic if they are caught. In 2013, IDFG noted that more than 30 dogs were caught in such traps in Idaho. Since then, trapping has expanded significantly.
What else is next?
Now that the legislature has decided to micromanage wolves, what’s next? Other big game species, like deer and elk, sage-grouse, or cutthroat trout? Idahoans came together in 1938 and 76% agreed to pass an initiative creating the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. Due to political interference in the preceding five decades, Idahoans decided to entrust fish and game management to this independent commission.
What you can do
The Idaho Conservation League supports fish and game management in Idaho free from political influence with decisions based on science and facts. We also want to make sure that wolf hunting and trapping involves common-sense policies so that our pets and rare wildlife, like wolverine, are not at risk.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service typically conducts a post-delisting monitoring plan for five years following the delisting of a species to ensure that protections are sufficient.
Join us to ask the USFWS to initiate a new review and post-delisting monitoring period to ensure that wolves are not managed to minimal levels and to intervene and assume management authority if needed.
Wolves can potentially be relisted if a change in state law or management objectives would significantly increase the threat to the wolf population. One of these triggers is “a change in State law or management objectives that would significantly increase the threat to the wolf population.”
While it is unlikely that the USFWS will weigh in immediately, a thorough review by them is needed. Ask the USFWS for a thorough review.
Traps and snares
Request that the Idaho Fish and Game Commission expand the distance from unpaved trails where traps and snares are allowed. Traps can be set within 10 feet of the centerline of unpaved trails, which is clearly not a sufficient distance to protect a pet. Also, trappers may apply a scent near their traps and dogs may be lured by this smell.
For traps, IDFG already has a 300-foot setback from sites such as designated public campgrounds, trailheads, paved trails, or picnic areas. This setback should be expanded to include U.S. Forest Service and BLM roads and trails with high recreational use.
Trappers should be required to place signs in areas where traps are present and should be required to check traps every 24 hours to reduce the killing of non-target animals.
Ask the IDFG Commission to protect pets from traps. To find and contact your local Commissioner, click here.
Agencies should invest more in non-lethal measures instead of paying bounties for wolves as is currently done. Non-lethal measures, like those practiced at the Wood River Wolf Project, have been extremely successful at protecting livestock and provide a reasonable win-win alternative.
Ask the Wolf Depredation Board to fund non-lethal measures. To contact the Wolf Depredation Control Board, click here.